The following words are not spoken in this movie: “masturbation,” ‘orgasm” or “vibrator.” On one hand, I suppose it’s good that they weren’t because the characters would flush and giggle. “Hysteria” is the story about the man who invented the vibrator, but you would never be able to tell from the tone of the movie. This seems more like a ’90s live-action Disney movie than one about the creation of the most popular sex toy.
In a movie about breaking conventions, everything feels so conventional. A young doctor has dreams of a great medical breakthrough and he does it while he starts to fall in love. The music is sweet, the acting is sweet. The jokes are silly with only the vaguest sense of suggestion.
They have the right cast to make a light family movie. Hugh Dancy is the young doctor who wants to teach the world about germs and science. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the quirky girl who isn’t afraid to break the norms. Rupert Everett is the wacky best friend. Felicity Jones is the sweet girl who is now in every British film. They’re all the perfect ingredients for a movie your mom will love but with a subject that your mom won’t go near.
I keep harping on this odd tone for a reason because it really hurts the film. It’s not fair to judge the movie on what it isn’t, but there is this vibe during the whole film that this could have been a really fun edgy comedy. Instead, the most controversial image is a brief scene of two ducks having sex in a pond. Without this ambition to even try to walk a line, this is sadly just a forgettable tale.